At a spirited confirmation hearing Thursday, CIA director nominee John O. Brennan staunchly defended the Obama administration’s drone strike policy, as well as his own record on the subjects of harsh interrogation methods and leaks.
Brennan, who touted his own “direct manner,” “candor” and “bluntness” that stem from his “New Jersey roots,” endured sharp questioning from Senate Intelligence Committee members on both sides of the aisle about contentious topics, but he parried a number of the attacks with well-prepared and at times sharp-elbowed answers. His performance stood in contrast to the rockier outing last week by another high-profile Obama administration national security nominee, Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense.
The hearing did get off to a raucous start, as Brennan’s opening statement was interrupted so repeatedly by protesters angry about U.S. drone strikes that Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., halted the hearing and ordered the room cleared briefly.
The Obama administration had hoped to clear some potential obstacles to Brennan’s confirmation in advance by turning over Office of Legal Counsel memos to the panel on the targeted drone killing of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. Brennan, as the top White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, has guided the administration’s drone strike program.
So far, there is little evidence that Brennan won’t be confirmed.
But members complained that they needed to see yet more documents and that staff members shouldn’t have been forbidden from seeing them.
And Feinstein said Thursday at the hearing that she would look at new legislative proposals to govern overseas drone strikes, including the possibility of creating a new court to review them.
She said there were eight more legal memos the committee was seeking, while Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the documents provided did not live up to President Barack Obama’s commitment to him to turn over “any and all” related opinions. Feinstein said she was comfortable with the processes for the drone program, but that it was vague who was responsible for making which decisions.
Brennan committed, conditionally, to assisting the committee in its quest for information.
“I would certainly be an advocate of making sure that this committee has the documentation it needs in order to perform its oversight functions,” Brennan said. “I have been an advocate of that position. I will continue to be.”
That said, Brennan noted that “the reason for providing information just to committee members at times is to ensure that it is kept on a limited basis. It is rather exceptional, as I think you know, that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion — or advice — would be shared directly with you.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.